//DV8 Co-founder Rawley Gunnels. Photo courtesy of Johnathan Tilley.
In early December, Thrillist named Boulder one of the top 5 LGBTQIA-friendly U.S. destinations to hit up in the new year. The city’s DV8 Distillery, an experiential-focused queer bar and community space, is throwing the ultimate inclusive New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball.
“I will absolutely be there,” said Ash Elder, a local drag king who goes by the stage name Weird Al Spankabitch and identifies as non-binary transmasculine. “I love the DJs they bring in, and it’s such a nice feeling to walk into someplace and be recognized, welcomed and loved. I want to start the New Year in that environment.”
Elder, who now frequently performs at the distillery, first went to DV8 when they moved to Colorado and the distillery was hosting a glow party for OUT Boulder County. It was their first step into the Boulder and queer scenes.
“Over the years, it’s been the first place where I really felt accepted and when I first started to change my pronouns, the first time I ever asked someone to [use my pronouns] was at a DV8 event,” Elder said. “Everyone made sure to respect it and respect me.”
In this spirit, the distillery is planning a full and freeing night, co-presented by New York-based The ZooKeepers. DV8 Co-founder Rawley Gunnels is looking to present a series of experiences in heated tents that extend beyond the main building and into the parking lot. The range of entertainment and libations include a DJ, aerial performances with silks and hoops, go-go dancing and craft cocktails with spirits distilled on-site.
“It’s a really wonderful, diverse experience,” said Gunnels. “It feels more alive somehow because there are a wider variety of humans.”
Gunnels launched DV8 in 2015 with Co-founder Jonathan Tilley. Originally founded as Deviant Spirit, the venue’s website states that the abbreviation is a play on the former name. Since the beginning, the duo has hoped to create a safe space where customers can let down their guard.
This focus is something that means a lot to Gunnels. “I’ve only come out just recently. It’s taken me quite a while to feel secure in myself and I want to do whatever I can to make it easier for the next generation. DV8 became an extension of this thing that I’ve always wanted—somewhere that I can go and be secure and be safe, to not be judged for however I choose to express myself.”
With queer, lesbian and gay bars continuing to disappear throughout the country, spaces like DV8 are increasingly rare. While the loss is largely attributed to an increase in inclusion in all environments, Gunnels feels a designated queer space that fosters community and self-acceptace is needed.
“It’s very selfish, actually,” Gunnels said. “I want it for myself, so I provided it as the core of my business.”
DV8’s Masquerade Ball is a leading event that embraces people however they choose to present themselves. Party holidays like New Year’s Eve are notorious for instances of predatory behavior and harassment, especially targeting LGBTQ+ folks. The distillery is determined to create a safe and accepting environment where all can enjoy themselves.
Beyond providing an open community space, Gunnels is passionate about distilling. He explained that the spirits he and his co-founder create are as unique as the community space they provide. Made with rice, a grain that’s difficult to ferment, the spirits feature a distinct flavor. As a result, DV8 is the only rice distillery in Colorado and one of just a few nationwide.
According to Gunnels, the results speak for themselves. ”Our vodka has a marshmallow and banana flavor that’s really beautiful and fun to drink. We distill it many times over in order to create the purest form of ethanol that we can. That means the flavor has the least amount of hangover and the most amount of flavor, impact and clarity.”
In the end, Gunnels believes that there’s a key congruence between the cleanness of their spirits and the experiences in their community space on New Year’s Eve and throughout the year. “We want you to have fun with us, enjoy yourself. That’s it. That’s a lot.”
Ticket details: Tickets are $50 in advance of the event and $50 at the door. Currently available at https://www.dv8.fun/events. They include entertainment and a midnight champagne tasting.
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